Lotus Racing's Heikki Kovalainen believes he may be able to have a go at the Sauber's of Kamui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa today in the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Kovalainen, who was the fastest new team runner on Friday in practice, was again on it in qualifying and he almost beat Kobayashi to P18, only to drop behind the Japanese driver right at the end of Q1.
Despite just missing out though, and finishing two tenths slower, the ex-McLaren and Renault driver was still pleased and he is happy with the progress the Anglo-Asian outfit is making in improving the Cosworth-powered T127.
“I've felt like I've done a few good qualifying laps this year, but this one was really good,” Kovalainen reflected. “I've had a decent balance all weekend, and yesterday I didn't have any problems, so I could find a good setup and had the confidence to push.
“We just need to find a little bit more to really take the fight to the guys in front, but tomorrow I think we can race them, I think we can have a go. I thought I had Kamui for a while, but he just got in front at the end, but you always find a little bit more when you think you can get the guy ahead and that shows how far we've come. Today shows we're making progress all the time – we were only two tenths away from Sauber today which is just great for the whole team.”
Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne and team boss, Tony Fernandes meanwhile, were delighted to see Kovalainen really push Kobayashi. They were also happy with Jarno Trulli, who will line-up one spot behind his team-mate. Both men insisted though that the target for the race is to get both cars home.
“It's been a very strong qualifying for the team today,” Gascoyne said. “The big question was tyre choice; both drivers did their first run on the harder tyre, and Heikki decided to stay with that, while Jarno switched to the option.
“I think Heikki managed to get a lot out of it, and it's a sign of how far we've come that we came very close to out-qualifying one of the Saubers - it would have been another great step forward for us to beat one of the established teams in a straight fight, and we're nearly there. Jarno didn't quite get the lap time out of the option tyre on his last run, and I think we as a team have to take responsibility for that – his lack of running yesterday really hurt his chances, especially on the options, so we have to say sorry to him for that.
“But overall it was a great performance from the whole team. Looking at tomorrow, this is always one of the unpredictable races, so you never know, but our aim will be to get the two cars to the finish”
Fernandes added: “It's funny – a really good qualifying session for us, but really this weekend is all about getting cars across the finish line on Sunday. Having said that, today was another big step forward for us as we were just 2.34 seconds off the outright pace in Q1 and to be so close to a Sauber in qualifying is absolutely great, but also a bit frustrating as it would have been even better to beat an established team, and that shows just how far we've come in such a short time.
“Heikki did a fantastic job to push Kamui so hard in Q1, and Jarno also performed extremely well to stay ahead of the other new teams, particularly bearing in mind how little running he had yesterday. Tomorrow is all about seeing the chequered flag though, and that is what we are really focussing on, but I also think we can take the fight to the guys ahead, and I cannot wait to see how it pans out – bring it on!”